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NASCAR Media Tour - Day 2

by Pete McCole
Wednesday, January 21, 2009


(R) Bobby Labonte, driver of the No. 96 Ford poses alongside CEO Jim Safka (C), and Hall of Fame Racing co-owner Tom Garfinkel (L)
Courtesy Lowe's Motor Speedway/Harold Hinson

The 27th annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway continued on Tuesday with day two of the four-day tour.

Leading off the second day was a breakfast press conference with Hall of Fame Racing, who introduced new driver Bobby Labonte and new primary sponsor has signed on as primary sponsor for 18 of the first 21 races in 2009, with an option for more, and has also signed on to become the official search engine of NASCAR.

Hall Of Fame Racing will be partnering with Yates Racing for 2009, receiving engines, chassis and technical support from Yates and racing under the Ford nameplate. HOF Racing had a similar arrangement with Joe Gibbs Racing since the team was first founded by former NFL quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach in 2006.

New co-owners Tom Garfinkel and Jeff Moorad took over operation of the team last year, and immediately looked to improve their team, aligning with Yates and signing 2000 Sprint Cup Champion Bobby Labonte to pilot the no. 96 Ford Fusion for the 2009 season.

“We had an engineering department and [Joe Gibbs Racing] had an engineering department. We didn't really share information,” said Garfinkel. “We enjoyed our relationship with Gibbs but I think that we inherited a model that was built three or four years ago when the sport was a lot different, economically, technically and a lot of different ways. Again, we knew it would take time we think now we put ourselves in a position to be more competitive.

"With Bobby behind the wheel, with Roush/Yates engines, with being integrated into Yates in a more seamless way we think it will help us be more competitive."
For Labonte, the new alignment with Yates affords him a new opportunity to be competitive after departing Petty Enterprises prior to their merger with Gillett-Evernham.

"I knew that they were going to do (the merger), but it was when I was getting ready to get my exit papers,” said Labonte. “It was best to part ways and go on. It was better for me to reset my buttons and start over. The baggage that I had wasn't what they needed."

"This was an opportunity that was secure and competitive. I knew that would be the place I needed to be."

Stop 2: Nationwide Series announcement
Courtesy Lowe's Motor Speedway/Harold Hinson
The media tour moved on for an announcement from NASCAR Nationwide Series title sponsor Nationwide Insurance, who unveiled a new marketing program with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., as well as a bonus program for Nationwide Series drivers called the “Nationwide Insurance Dash 4 Cash”, which will add $25,000 to the winner’s purse at the NNS races at Nashville, Memphis, Kentucky and Iowa. Eligible drivers include NNS drivers and Sprint Cup drivers running a full NNS schedule.

NNS Series Director Joe Balash also discussed the new NNS Car of Tomorrow, which will begin competition in 2010.

“The cars will use a common NASCAR-certified chassis, so the teams will have to come to the NASCAR R&D Center for a free inspection before the chassis will be certified, and then we’ll use a very similar grid package for the template,” said Balash. “All the same safety features in the Sprint Cup COT will be in the new car because it will be the same chassis that the NSC teams are using.

“The look of the car gives it a unique look (from the NSC COT) and the balance of the car, with a smaller splitter on the front and a spoiler on the back, will make the car drive a little different from the Sprint Cup version.”

Stop 2: SPEED TV
Courtesy Lowe's Motor Speedway/Harold Hinson
The media tour rolled on with a visit to the new studios of the SPEED network. The 58,000 square-foot facility features three studios and production facilities on a site located just a few miles from Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

"We're really proud of the facility,” said Rick Miner, SPEED Senior VP Production and Network Operations.  “We're looking into a tapeless environment. We hope to be able to exchange files with NASCAR Media Group, so when we're at the track and Media Group is at the track and somebody needs something, it's just a matter of sending a file.”

“We’ve come a long way since I first started here in 2002, we did our first show out of a trailer in a back parking lot,” said Truck Series host Krista Voda. “We’re really excited to be able to have the resources to do our job better.”

SPEED will continue be the exclusive home of the truck series, which will have a new title sponsor, as Camping World replaces long-time sponsor Craftsman as title sponsor of the new NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Stop 4: Bobby Allison, poses after Lowe's Motor Speedway officials announce Allison will be the Grand Marshal for the 50th Anniversary of the Coca-Cola 600
Courtesy Lowe's Motor Speedway/Harold Hinson
On the final stop of the afternoon, Speedway Motorsports unveiled an extensive program to celebrate the 50th running of the Coca Cola 600 on May 24th.  SMI President and CEO Bruton Smith and LMS general manager Marcus Smith were on hand to talk about 50 years of history at the track, as well as introduce three-time Coca-Cola 600 Bobby Allison as grand marshal for the event.

"When you're trying to find the greatest moment here at Lowe's Motor Speedway it is difficult,” said Burton Smith. “They've been asking me to define what was the greatest moment here, the greatest spectacle in racing. I'm not sure we've come up with one because there was so many. I think the greatest moment was actually getting the speedway open. That might have been the most trying of all events.

"Things were a little more difficult then. Particularly money. Money was a challenge. Nobody would talk to you about a loan. It was a trying time. But the speedway opened and all this other stuff is history and I'd like to think it was worth it."

Coca-Cola also announced a unique “golden can” promotion in honor of the 50th Coca-Cola 600. The golden can will be placed in specially marked 12-packs, with the lucky winner driving away with the official Coca-Cola 600 Toyota Camry Hybrid pace car.

Joe Gibbs Racing rounded out day two with an evening press event at their facility in nearby Huntersville, N.C.

Team owners Joe and J.D. Gibbs reflected on the 2008 season, which saw JGR driver Kyle Busch dominate the regular season, only to falter and fall to 12th in the standings during the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“We went back and looked at it, we had three things go wrong right off the bat, and it was just mechanical issues that were our fault in the preparation, and once that happened, we were done,” said J.D. Gibbs. “Part of it was we learned that we could prepare a little bit better, but the reality of it was those other guys were good, so it wasn’t like (Busch) was light-years ahead of them, they were all pretty close once they got going in the chase.”

“The most important things when something goes bad, is do a great job in analyzing why,” said Joe Gibbs. “Then, you turn around and say what can we do to make sure this never happens again.

“We once started 0-5 when I was coaching the (Washington) Redskins, and we learned a lot from going 0-5. We changed our offense, we changed some personnel, and we made a lot of decisions based on that. The most important thing is to learn from it, and then try and set an agenda that will help you fix it.”

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